New York City Subway Woes

By Brigid Hosmer

After months of subway system breakdowns and extensive delays, New Yorkers are growing increasingly frustrated with how the public transportations systems are operating.  

“I feel like the subway is constantly letting people down,” said Justice Reyes, a 14-year-old from the Bronx. Reyes rides the subway daily and relies on it to get to school, work, and home like many New Yorkers. He’s experienced numerous delays this month alone, interrupting important appointments and even making him late to pick up his siblings from day care.

Unfortunately, his experience is not isolated as more and more New Yorkers share his sentiment.

Over the last five years, delays have more than doubled, to about 70,000 a month from 28,000, according to official City Hall data.

New York’s Governor Andrew Cuomo has said that he will be signing an executive order declaring a state of emergency for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority that oversees the the city’s transit system.

Cuomo has also been vocal about the bureaucracy surrounding the MTA that has led to excessive delays and much needed improvements to the subway system.  He’s characterized the MTA’s project capacity as “deplorable” and has sided with New Yorkers who are impatient with the glacial pace of upgrades.

“There’s an urgency here,” Mayor Bill de Blasio said at a recent press conference at Brooklyn Borough Hall when discussing the subway situation.

“It’s driving New Yorkers crazy. The subway is not working. And that’s creating a tremendous amount of pressure on Albany to actually do something different, so I think you would agree in moments of crisis the political landscape starts to change,” he said.

Subway ridership has risen dramatically since the 1990s when about four million people used the system each day. Now nearly six million people ride the subway daily. The system has not increased capacity to compensate for this increase in riders.  Unfortunately, the subway cars are jammed with two million more riders and many others like Reyes say the experience is less than pleasant.

“I’d never ride the subway if didn’t have to, but it’s the only way to get around and I guess I’ve gotten use to the inconveniences,” said the young rider.

But how exactly does overcrowding cause delays?

Subway officials say that at each stop too many people are trying to get on and off the train in a short amount of time, delaying it and the other trains behind it.  Once one train is delayed, every train behind it gets delayed.  It’s like a traffic jam on the highway that just creeps along and eventually comes to a complete stop.

“After a train starts to pick up large crowds, it becomes harder for people to get on and off,” said train operator Brussard Alston, who spoke with the New York Times. The delay reverberates down the line as a queue of trains behind it backs up.

Many ask how this issue could be overlooked for so long resulting in a potential state of emergency?  Some people indicate the system’s long term neglect and bureaucratic reluctance to make timely investments in the system.

“It’s not as if the governor just got elected. He’s had seven years to deal with these problems,” said Richard Barone, vice president for transportation at the Regional Plan Association, a nonprofit group that advises governments on infrastructure policy.

“The agency has been treading water for years without improving its subways and adapting with new technology.” he said.

Numerous inquiries to city officials were not returned.  

Joe Lhota, Chairman of the MTA,  unveiled a  new “action plan”  in late July aimed at fixing the subways. Plans included adding new cars to trains, replacing tracks and increasing maintenance staff. When asked when commuters can start to see improvements, Lhota couldn’t give a specific answer.  

Once these repairs are done, the MTA has to modernize the subways with a new signal system and new cars. Lhota estimated that work will cost $1 billion on top of the current capital budget.

Mayor Bill de Blasio announced on August 7  that he would push for a tax on wealthy New Yorkers to pay for improvements needed to address the problems in New York City’s subway.

This “millionaire tax” as de Blasio called it, would tax wealthy New York City residents to pay for subway and bus upgrades. The new tax would apply to individuals making over $500,000 a year, increasing their income tax rate to 4.4%.  This proposal includes reduced fares for more riders, an idea that has been successful in Seattle.

But, the pushback to a tax increase was rapid and pointed.

“Raising taxes is not the answer,” said NY State Senator John Flanagan a republican from District 2.

“While I support increased city investment in the subway, the city already has a $4.2 billion surplus and therefore has the ability to do so with existing resources. Mayor de Blasio doesn’t need to reach into the wallets of city residents to make that happen,” according to the N.Y. Daily News.

Other proposals to correct the subway problems include seat removal, so 25 more people can fit per train, asking the NYPD to issue more summons for littering, and dedicated teams to deliver expedited repairs to signal problems.

It’s fair to say that the subway problems are extensive and costly.  Unfortunately, riders like Reyes are already worn out by subway chaos.

Said Reyes “I want to live in New York for the rest of my life, but if I have to ride this crazy overcrowded subway system I’m outta here.”  Time will tell whether riders will have the patience to tolerate the NYC subway system.



Pre-College Journalism Students’ Subway Survey

During the summer of ‘17, Pre-College journalism students at NYU conducted a survey about New York City’s subway. One hundred and thirty subway riders and non-riders were asked about the well-documented problems that have been occurring in the system and their overall attitudes and opinions.

If you live in the New York City area do you use the bus or subway?

Yes- 50%


If you are a tourist or visiting student do you use the bus or subway?




If you use the subway, what is your overall approval rating of the service?

On a scale from 1 the worst to 5 the best-  Average score: 3


How clean are the subways?

On a scale from 1 the worst to 5 the best- Average score: 2.3


Is it a good idea to ban food/ eating on the subway and busses as an attempt to keep the system clean and free of track fires?

40% yes

60% no


How efficient are the subways and busses?

On a scale from 1 the worst to 5 the best- Average score: 3.1


Could service be improved?

87% yes

12.5% no


Have you experienced a change in the number of homeless people/ panhandlers on the subway in the past month?

32% yes

68% no


Have you experienced delays or other service disruptions in the last month?

79% yes

21% no


How safe do you feel on the subways and busses?

On a scale from 1 the worst to 5 the best-Average score: 3.5



Male- 43%


Other- >1%



Under 18- 26%

19-24 -32%

25-34- 22%



Over 65-1%

Brigid Hosmer is a rising junior at Tilton School in Tilton, New Hampshire.